May’s new album has a Tribal feel

HER music has been labelled everything from jazz and rockabilly to punk and blues – and it’s no wonder, given Imelda May’s upbringing.

Growing up in Ireland as the youngest of five, she had all her siblings’ record collections to draw from. “Seven of us in a two-bedroom house, and one record player,” she laughs.

FEELING PUNKY –  Imelda May has shaken things up

FEELING PUNKY – Imelda May has shaken things up

“So I heard everything from Dean Martin to David Bowie, Meatloaf, Rolling Stones, John Denver, The Carpenters, The Specials, Eddie Cochran – nobody went to their own room with headphones on.”

In the ’80s, she discovered rockabilly and punk through bands like the Stray Cats, The Clash, and The Cramps, as well as her personal female icons Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry of Blondie and Joan Jett. To top it off, she soaked up her father’s favourite big band, jazz and traditional Irish music.

“It’s a mixture of all the music that I love,” says Imelda simply, explaining her own sound.

To follow up on 2007’s Love Tattoo and 2010’s Mayhem, she has a new album called Tribal and says she’s definitely got punkier as time has gone on. “I wanted to tap into the more heavy sounds that I love,” she says. “I wanted to get the kind of rawness of the early rockabilly and the later ‘Ramonesy’ feel. They had that raw danger, almost, and I wanted to get a little piece of that on this album.”

Record company bosses may have tried to tone down Imelda’s rough edges but she was having none of it. “I wanted to do my thing, and people are crying out for music where the bass drum kicks you in the chest.

“Sugar is nice, but in its place. I’m a stubborn woman, and I was not giving in, to cave for easy money. I never had done that, and never will.”

Even motherhood has not mellowed her, and she’s being accompanied on tour by her two-year-old daughter, Violet. “It’s like all working mothers, you just get on with it,” she says.

“I’d rather have her with me than not. She’s starting to speak different languages, travelling around. She tries the food. I love being around her all day. The only thing is I get less sleep.

“It’s like people expect you to turn into a little marshmallow in the corner because you had a baby. And it doesn’t do that. I’m not going to sit in a corner singing lullabies for the next 20 years.

“I took time off having her, and I stayed at home with her because I just wanted to be with her. Then it got to the point where. I was ready to go again.

“So I started to write. I missed the guys; I missed being on tour – that’s a huge part of my life. I knew that it would be good for her, too. She’s not in school yet. She’s having a great time, and she’s travelling the world.”

And Imelda does have husband Darrel Higham on hand too – he’s the guitarist in her band alongside drummer Steve Rushton, trumpeter Dave Priseman, and upright bassist Al Gare. Whether he helps out with childcare, she is not saying, but adds: He plays killer riffs, and is a phenomenal husband.” Fair enough, then.

IMELDA MAY plays at G Live, Guildford, on Wednesday
(December 3).

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